Should I Put Ice or Heat on an Injury?


A common question that causes much confusion is ‘Should I put ice or heat on an injury’. I have covered this previously in the article Heat or Ice on an injury. To make the advice absolutely clear, I have recorded a video explaining when to use each. Below is a transcript of the video.

Video Transcript: When an injury first occurs, this is when you should use ice. Ice is used in order to constrict the blood vessels. So, what happens is that you have an injury site and your body’s first response is to heal that injury site. So, by doing that, it sends blood to the area which creates inflammation which has the properties inside it in order to heal that injury.

What blood does, it stops a lot of the blood going to the area so that there is not too much of an inflammation build up. Inflammation is ultimately what will cause your pain in the area which causes also the swelling and the blood rushing to the area will cause bruising.

So ice will help to decrease inflammation and decrease the bruising. It will therefore decrease the amount of pain and healing time.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural healing process so within inflammation there are some good properties. There is plasma which helps to cover up an injured site so a tear of some sort but there are also some bad products – and that’s what we need to reduce at the injury site.

When Should I Use Heat on My Injury?

Heat is really good for an injury that has been around for a long time. Heat is usually used on muscular injuries. So where the muscles have stayed tight and contracted and haven’t been able to release.

What the theory behind the heat is that the heat helps to open up or dilate the blood vessels. This allows more blood flow into the muscles, which then helps the muscles to relax and come out of its contracted stage.

What Happens if I Apply Ice When I Should Have Applied Heat?

So, if for example, you have a muscle spasm and you put ice on that –  that would probably make the muscles stay in that spasm and contracted state. However, as we said, putting heat on that would open it up and allow it to relax.

And vice versa if you put heat on a new trauma injury for example something that’s bruising, that’s going to make more blood come to the area by opening up the blood vessels and that could cause extra bruising and extra inflammation in the area which means that the injury might take longer to heal.

How Should I Apply Ice or Heat?

So on a new injury, the first thing you should do is to apply ice. This procedure can be done by doing an ice pack or if you don’t have an ice pack the old bag of beans will do. What you should do is you should wrap it in a tea towel or some kind of cloth. Never apply ice directly onto the skin; you can end up getting ice burn on the skin.

Ice should only be applied for a maximum of five to ten minutes to an area because it can create ice burning.

If you need to apply heat, heat can be applied in a few different ways. There’s the traditional hot water bottle or wheat bags that are now available. Or you can use heat rub such as Dencorub which has heat in and that may last a bit longer as it seeps into the skin and into the blood stream.

For more information, contact Inlign Osteopathy.


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